Posted in Mississippi Art News

ArtWorks | Turning Schools Around Through Art

If there are two things that y’all know about us, it’s that we love blogging AND we love keeping art in our public schools. So, naturally we needed to share this great story from ArtWorks, the official blog of the National Endowment for the Arts, about how schools are using the arts as a method of school reform. Check it out!

Turning Schools Around Through Art

By Rebecca Gross

Students creating art at Savoy Elementary School in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Savoy Elementary School.

Throughout the years, there has been no shortage of proposals designed to improve troubled schools. Longer school days. Block scheduling. Charter schools. Standardized tests. Increased teacher accountability. But one new program is using a different tactic to try and change the course of floundering schools: art.

Announced in April, the Turnaround Art Initiative (TAI) is a new program from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH), in partnership with the NEA among others. The initiative has paired eight schools across the country with high-profile artists, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Yo-Yo Ma, Chuck Close, and Forest Whitaker. Throughout the course of two years, the artists and schools will work together to develop a strong arts curriculum that will benefit students both artistically and academically.

Savoy Elementary School is one of the schools participating in TAI. Located in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC, it has been paired with actress Kerry Washington, who hopes to support and spotlight the work of Patrick Pope, the school’s principal. When Pope arrived at Savoy last year, he said the school “was a little up and down.” Inconsistent teaching and frequent changes at the administrative level had both become chronic problems. “There had been some real challenges to focused and consistent direction and leadership,” Pope said.

“Schools that are identified as Turnaround schools, while that sounds like it might be a positive term, is kind of a sad commentary because it means that there’s been a consistent pattern of failure for several years,” Pope said. “I think children and teachers walking into a school that’s identified as consistently failing begin to believe that school is not a very successful place.”

Previously, Pope had been the principal at Washington’s Hardy Middle School, where he built an intensive arts program over the course of a decade. What started with one instrumental music teacher and one visual arts teacher gradually bloomed into nearly a dozen full- and part-time arts teachers, and a requirement that all students learn to play an instrument during their three years at the school. There were vocal classes, a 135-student marching band, a strings program, visual arts, and theater performances.

“The arts program was one very, very vital and core part of the change [at Hardy],” Pope said. “It became a more focused school; it became a very high academic achieving school. We always attributed that to the power and influence of solid arts education.”

A Savoy student works on a self-portrait. Photo courtesy of Savoy Elementary School

Ms. Washington is not surprised. “Too often we think about arts education as an elective extra, as something that if there’s time, if there’s money, then maybe we’ll include it,” she said. “But the arts are not an extra extravagance, but a necessary tool to unlock the solutions to better the American education system.”

Since Pope’s arrival at the helm of Savoy, he has already instituted a dramatically different arts curriculum. In just one year, Pope and his staff have doubled the amount of time students spend in art classes, and have brought in professional artists to teach master classes. Thanks to a partnership with the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), a 50-student gospel choir is also being formed at the school. The Turnaround Art Initiative will also support the creation of a keyboard lab and will alter the curriculum to include daily dance or movement classes for certain grade levels. Pope says he has already seen a difference in his students, and that the hallways and classrooms have become more vibrant.

“The arts give us an opportunity very quickly to have student perform very well and experience success,” he said. “Once students have performed a song or produced an outstanding piece or artwork or have learned a dance movement, and they get a chance to have that recognized, they want more. One of the things that the arts can bring to our kids is a sense of accomplishment and success…and then maybe change some of the stigma about what school is. School can be a place where you really can succeed.”

This success isn’t confined to artistic greatness, of course. For Kerry Washington, who grew up with after-school activities like ballet, gymnastics, and children’s theater, consistent arts education likely did influence her decision to pursue a path as a professional artist. But she says that is not the point of Turnaround, which is instead designed to promote creative thinking and innovation across all disciplines. “I want to make sure that we don’t miss out on the next great physicist because that student never was taught to unlock their own love of learning,” she said. “We want them to fall in love with whatever area of wisdom or knowledge that they’re drawn to. We just know that the arts can help them find that.”

via Art Works, the official blog of the National Endowment for the Arts

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The mission of the Greenville Arts Council is to promote the rich cultural heritage of the region and stimulate and encourage cultural activities, arts appreciation, arts education, and the creative works of artists. Some of the responsibilities that help define the Greenville Arts Council as the primary promoter of the arts in our area include offering art classes to children and adults, organizing community events, presenting an ongoing series of free exhibits featuring visual artists from the area and the state, and coordinating educational programs which teach arts-integration in local schools. The Greenville Arts Partnership between the Greenville Arts Council, the Greenville Public School District and our three community arts partners, Delta Center Stage, Delta Symphony Association and the Delta Children’s Museum, is focused on full arts integration in the GPSD elementary schools. Plentiful research documents the value of the teaching in and through the arts to help students understand core academic concepts on a deep level. The partnership was the first in the state of Mississippi accepted into the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program in 2003, joining over 100 other partnerships between school districts and arts organizations across the country. The partnership provides professional development for teachers, arts experiences for students and resource and referral on arts integration issues. Professional development has been provided in two ways, through workshops with Teaching Artists from the Kennedy Touring Roster and grade-level and/or discipline-specific professional development with our local staff. We present a series of model demonstration lessons to teachers in grades K to 6, demonstrating connections between Partnership free arts programming and required state frameworks. The partner arts groups present a series of live performances allowing each elementary child in the GPSD to attend at least once each year. The groups work with the Arts Council staff to develop accompanying curriculum-based educational material for distribution to teachers prior to each performance. Over the years, we have succeeded in providing basic arts integration training district-wide as well as in-depth professional development to allow groups of teachers to increase their level of mastery.